Santee Cooper sweetens solar pot, but not enough to make a difference, says SELC

New fees imposed by Santee Cooper on solar customers will discourage residents from taking advantage of one of the state's greatest resources, the sun. (© Steve Snodgrass)

South Carolina’s state-owned Santee Cooper this week rolled out new solar incentives, but SELC attorneys say the utility’s plans aren’t enough to boost its lagging solar engagement.

In fact, according to SELC attorneys Blan Holman and Lauren Bowen, fees set to kick in April 1 will eclipse the incentive changes just announced by the utility’s board of directors. Those fees may cost a typical customer hundreds of dollars a year and, Holman says, will hobble solar for years to come in Santee Cooper territory.

“Other South Carolina utilities are seeing tremendous growth in solar because they don’t penalize customers who make solar investments that help the entire grid,“ said Holman, managing attorney at the SELC’s Charleston office. “Santee Cooper currently has the lowest solar participation rate of the large utilities in the state, and this convoluted combination of fees and subsidies will keep it at the back of the pack.”

SELC is working with the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League in a push to make Santee Cooper’s solar fees and policies more in line with other South Carolina utilities. Duke Energy and SCE&G do not impose fees on solar customers, and those utilities offer higher energy credits when solar customers generate excess electricity.

“South Carolina's state-owned utility has fallen well behind peer utilities on solar, and we don’t think this proposal will change that,” said Hamilton Davis, Climate Director for the Coastal Conservation League. “The General Assembly unanimously passed a pro-solar bill in 2014 and Governor Haley signed it, but this proposal will not keep Santee Cooper on pace to reach that law’s performance targets. That’s unfortunate for South Carolina and Santee Cooper customers.”

David Wren, a reporter for Charleston’s Post & Courier newspaper, wrote that “customers who take part in the solar farm and rooftop-panel programs will be charged a ‘standby’ fee of between $4.20 per month for residents and $4.70 per month for businesses to cover the fixed costs of bringing electricity to their sites. Rooftop panel customers also must pay a $2-per-month metering fee.”

Holman calls those kinds of fees “punitive.” He says the standby fees, low power credits, and complicated rate structures will not entice Santee Cooper customers to take full advantage of one of South Carolina’s most abundant resources: the sun.

Because of the state’s abundant sunshine and a legislature that has embraced the solar power, the non-profit Solar Foundation ranked South Carolina’s solar potential as  highest in the region. But the group also noted the state ranks near the bottom in nation for the actual amount of solar energy produced each year.

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